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State and Local Governments Spent $5.6 Million On Lawyers for Illegal Immigrants

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Programs highlight growing state-level efforts to work around federal immigration enforcement

Some of the thousands of immigrants sheltered near the International Bridge in Del Rio, Texas / Reuters

• January 11, 2022 6:00 am

At least $5.6 million in state and local taxpayer funds will be used to bankroll lawyers for illegal immigrants fighting deportation this year, according to an immigration reform group report released on Tuesday.

Following a review of local and city governments that partnered with a group that seeks to provide counsel to noncitizens, the Immigration Reform Law Institute found that at least $5.6 million in taxpayer funds from state and local communities was earmarked for these deportation defense programs, which it described as “a conservative estimate [that] does not include numerous other localities that fund their own independent anti-deportation programs.”

“These programs are an insult to every law-abiding American citizen and legal resident,” said Dale L. Wilcox, executive director and general counsel of IRLI, in a statement. “Our laws clearly state that noncitizens charged with civil offenses do not have a right to legal representation. Yet we have radical anti-borders groups starting these programs and sticking unknowing citizens with the bill. It’s outrageous.”

The findings highlight the growing state-level efforts to combat federal immigration enforcement, and the extent to which these campaigns are supported by taxpayer money. IRLI said its investigation also raised questions about whether state and local governments are providing adequate supervision of these legal aid centers, which are often funded in collaboration with outside nonprofit groups.

IRLI reviewed 22 local and city governments that have partnered with the SAFE Initiative, a program run by a progressive nonprofit group called the Vera Institute of Justice, which seeks to provide legal counsel for noncitizens that are facing deportation orders.

In Philadelphia, officials told IRLI that they had no oversight or management role in the city’s taxpayer-funded deportation defense program, the Pennsylvania Immigrant Family Unity Project, which is run in partnership with the Vera Institute. In response to a public records request from IRLI, the city denied that it had access to internal documents because “it does not control PAIFUP and has no records of PAIFUP’s actions,” according to a ruling by the Pennsylvania Office of Open Records.

PAIFUP was launched in 2019 with $100,000 in taxpayer funding and is set to receive another $200,000 from the Philadelphia city government this year.

The Vera Institute did not respond to a request for comment.

Lora Ries, a senior research fellow for Homeland Security at the Heritage Foundation, told the Washington Free Beacon that the public funding is at odds with the Immigration and Nationality Act, which “states that an alien in removal proceedings has the privilege of being represented by counsel, but at no expense to the government.”

“Because removal proceedings are civil, not criminal, there is no constitutional right to a publicly funded attorney in immigration court,” said Ries. “U.S. citizens do not receive publicly funded attorneys for civil proceedings so to provide that generous benefit for deportable aliens treats them better than U.S. citizens.”

“This is a fiscal bottomless pit,” she added. “American taxpayer funds should instead be used for U.S. citizens and lawful residents.”

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